“The James Joyce Murder” by Amanda Cross

Cross, Amanda. The James Joyce Murder (1967)  
Ballantine Books, 197 pages, $5.99 paperback  
ISBN 0-345-34686-6

Spending the summer at a house in the Berkshires editing letters between James Joyce and his publisher promises to be a peaceful refuge from the city for Kate Fansler. Caring for her young nephew Leo is only a minor inconvenience, as Kate has hired William, a graduate student, to act as tutor and companion for the boy. Another graduate student is present to do the preliminary work of going through the late publisher’s papers and letters. (One wonders why Kate herself is at the house at all.) The stage seems set for a pleasant weekend when Reed Amhearst, an assistant D.A. from New York City, and two women professors arrive. Then Kate’s neighbor, Mary Bradford, a loathsome gossip whom everyone hates, spoils everything by being shot to death. Moreover, Kate and all of her houseguests are prime suspects.

Having been disappointed by Amanda Cross’s first Kate Fansler novel, In the Last Analysis, I hoped to like this one better. But I didn’t find this book any more satisfying than the first. Although The James Joyce Murder takes place in a rural setting, the presence of so many students and colleagues of Kate re-creates this series’ usual academic setting, complete with numerous references to the publish-or-perish philosophy of academia. There is also some feminist discussion about the options open to young women and the necessity to choose between working or becoming a suburban housewife and mother. In the end, as in In the Last Analysis, it isn’t Kate who solves the mystery of Mary Bradford’s death at all, but rather two of her guests.

© 1999 by Mary Daniels Brown

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